10-year-old fake condiment operation cracked in China

A massive counterfeit racket in China involving almost 50 small factories producing fake food seasonings has been discovered.

Located near the city of Tianjin, the operation used potentially harmful industrial salt and food manufacturing leftovers in fake condiments including soy sauce, vinegar, spices and chicken stock.

The products, which are widely used in Asia, had been sold across China, packaged and labelled as the well-known Western brand names Knorr, Maggi and Nestle and Chinese brands Totole and Donggu, among others.

It is believed the products had been sold by lower-level wholesalers for consumption in Chinese restaurants and small supermarkets. Authorities say there is no indication the goods were exported and Singapore has confirmed no imports have been detected as fake.

The publication Beijing News first revealed the operation after a tip-off from a whistle blower and investigated alongside local police. They discovered a "manufacturing hub" with extensive surveillance where condiments were made in unhygienic facilities using garden hoses and plastic drums.
Allegedly the seasonings and sauces were adulterated with industrial salt, which can be hazardous to human health, left-overs from other food manufacturers, tap water, regulated ingredients such as the artificial sweetener cyclamate and other banned food additives.

According to the whistle blower, the operation formed a complete supply chain including procurement, processing and delivery.

Officers from the China Food and Drug Administration are now investigating the "manufacturing hub", which* Beijing News* said had grown unchecked for more than 10 years and was producing seasonings estimated to be worth up to 100m yuan (around $15m) a year.

According to Totole, the Chinese brand had known about the operation for a decade and had made repeated attempts to shut it down but had been unsuccessful.

Nestle said it was working with authorities in the investigation, which has so far detained seven people in connection with the counterfeit operation.

The extent of the operation has led many to question the work of the China Food and Drug Administration, with several angry comments posted online. One user said: "Is there anything we can eat in China without being worried?"

In a statement the CFDA said it would "thoroughly rectify the problem of fake food seasoning production, and present the results of our investigation to the public in a timely fashion." It has asked food business operators to check their supply chains and if the source is found to be unknown or the food suspected as fake t it should be pulled and reported to authorities.

This is not the first time China has been hit by a counterfeit food scandal. In 2008, milk powder laced with melamine made more than 300,000 children sick and killed six babies. In the first three quarters of last year, as many as half a million illegal food safety violations were uncovered in the country including counterfeits and contaminated food products.

Condiments have been found to be the most faked and illicitly traded food product, according to a recent Interpol and Europol report, which found that 66 per cent of all counterfeit food and beverage seizures over a four-month period were condiments.

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